Senate budget writers on Thursday gawked at the exponential cost projections of a state law that waives tuition for veterans and their families at any of the state’s public higher education institutions.
The Texas Veterans Commission estimates the annual price tag of the Hazlewood Act could eventually grow to $2 billion if veterans start moving to the state to take advantage of the law after a federal judge last month struck down one of its provisions that says veterans and their families may receive free tuition as long as they enlisted while living in the state.
“We’ve created a monster,” said state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, a member of the Senate Finance Committee.
“This is something we really, really, really need to figure out how we’re going to address this,” said state Sen. Jane Nelson, chairwoman of the committee.
Earlier this week, the state Attorney General’s office told the budget-writing panel it would appeal the recent Hazlewood ruling.
According to Nelson’s office, $30 million of the nearly $33 million funding increase to the veterans commissions in the Senate’s proposed budget is to reimburse higher education institutions for a share of the “Hazlewood’s Exemption Legacy Program,” which allows veterans to waive their tuition benefits so their children may take advantage of them.
That is a fraction of the total price tag, however. Hazlewood cost the state’s public higher education institutions $169 million last year to cover nearly 40,000 students, according to the Legislative Budget Board.
Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, blamed the situation on the federal government, which he suggested should be paying for this kind of program.
“We’re finding ourselves potentially with a huge liability in trying to do right thing while the federal government just makes it more difficult,” he said.